Creating community and supporting mental health at work

We may not think about it often, but community is critical to people’s mental health. Not only is connecting with others crucial to our overall wellbeing, loneliness and isolation can harm our mental and physical health. This means that fostering community has become key to supporting health, especially in the workplace, where most of us will spend a third of our lives and most of our waking hours.

Unfortunately, recent shifts in how we live and work have made strengthening social ties and creating community more challenging. As a result, loneliness has become increasingly prevalent across age groups, roles, and locations. So much so that the issue has garnered global attention, with The Campaign to End Loneliness, The Global Initiative on Loneliness and Connection, The WHO, and The United States Surgeon General, among others working hard to raise awareness and roll out practical frameworks to help individuals and organisations take action to address social disconnection. And it’s not a minute too soon, as more than half of the global workforce (55%) report feeling lonely on at least a weekly basis, with an even higher percentage (79%) saying their work colleagues feel lonely every week.

On the other hand, a sense of community doesn’t just help combat loneliness; it enables employees to thrive at work and everywhere else, increasing engagement by 55% and the likelihood of retention by 66%. As leaders, creating a sense of community and connection is integral to your staff’s wellbeing. So while socialising and connecting can be hard to prioritise in a busy workplace, it deserves some of your time and resources—especially with so many workplaces adopting hybrid and remote working models.

Fortunately, even with remote, hybrid, and shift workers, there are many things employers and workplace leaders can do to support social connection. Here are three guiding principles to help you foster community and connection across your teams.

Collaboration spurs success (but it can’t happen without psychological safety)

Mistakes will inevitably happen at work, but leaders should encourage employees to address them together. Solving problems as a team forges stronger relationships, improving communication and collaboration. Note that this works best in an environment where your workforce feels psychologically safe enough to openly talk about struggles and ask for help when needed.

Psychological safety is defined by industry expert Amy Edmondson as a shared expectation that there won’t be negative consequences for speaking up with feedback, questions, or concerns, and that it’s okay to openly disagree and seek support. And psychological safety has been found to be more significant to performance than any other specific skill, trait, or talent. Build up psychological safety in your workplace by communicating clearly, owning your struggles, and backing up your team when necessary.

Be serious about work and fun

While a lot of our energy at work must understandably be directed towards delivering on key objectives and driving outcomes, celebrating wins (even the small ones) and having fun together helps keep teams feeling motivated and connected. To help everyone bond as a team, leaders should also consider planning fun, non-work-related activities. After all, studies show that teams that play together stay together.

Seemingly small group traditions can have an oversize effect, too. Research supports the idea that group rituals help people find meaning in their work—even when people resist participating. And employees who find purpose at work are happier, more motivated, and more productive.

Checking up and checking in

As a leader, it’s essential to be aware of your team’s wellbeing. While output and progress made are key markers of employee wellbeing, it’s also important to directly ask staff about how they’re doing. When people aren’t feeling well, performance often suffers—be ready to troubleshoot solutions or direct them to additional resources for support.

Don’t underestimate the power of chit-chat, either. A few minutes of informal conversation to start and end calls serves a dual function of keeping you in the loop about what’s happening with your team and helping build stronger bonds. Catching up with employees is valuable, and business leaders should encourage colleagues to save space for informal chats, even if they are conducted virtually. 

Although the stigma around mental health and loneliness keeps many workers from sharing their struggles and seeking help—especially with their employers, managers, and coworkers—striving to build a strong sense of community is a challenge worth facing. When your people feel safe, supported, and seen, they’re empowered to bring their best selves to work and life, positively impacting employee wellbeing, productivity, and overall life satisfaction. And, as a result, your organisation thrives.